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The homogenization of America

Inspiration Corner

February 14, 2018
I have the good fortune of having lived long enough (nearly 61 years) to see how the United States has changed over time. I remember being able to recognize the difference between a Ford from a Chevy from a Cadillac. Cars were distinctive and unique.

I remember when pop music had thoughtful lyrics that made one ponder. I could most definitely identify a musician from the first three or four notes of a song. I still am amazed that I can sing along and remember all the lyrics from hundreds of songs I learned as a teenager and beyond.

Since I have traveled and lived in a number of different states, I could walk down "Main Street" and see unique mom-and-pop shops that were inviting and one-of-a kind.

Restaurants were family-owned. When I lived in Boston, I would love walking down the street from my apartment and going into the little hole in the wall owned by a Greek husband and wife. A breakfast for two of eggs, bacon, home fries and a cup of coffee was $5, and I can assure you the home fries were homemade.

As a kid, my mother took me to White Castle. I loved their root beer because it would come in a frozen glass mug. You had to return the mug, of course, but the root beer tasted so fresh and cold.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Most SUVs and sedans look about the same with the same five colors: blue, black, white, silver and red. I can't really tell that much difference between a Lexus SUV and a Chevy Equinox unless I looked at the sticker price.

Music these days for the millennials is "techno," "psychedelic trance" or "rap" designed to scramble your brainwaves. Yes, there are exceptions, of course. Where I used to go dancing on the weekends, they played disco with a cool rhythm. Yes, we had rock and roll and hard rock, but many of the musicians had to be creative in both lyrics and musical composition. Now, most composing is done by computer and it has that "sameness" feel.

Mom-and-pop shops are going the way of the dinosaur. In their place, we have big-box stores where you have to walk a mile to find one item and, if you can't find it, you have to walk another mile trying to find someone to help you. Hardware stores? Where are they? They've been gobbled up by Lowe's and Home Depot.

Restaurants are now mostly "chain" restaurants. You can go from one state to another, one city to the next, and all the malls, stores and restaurants are the same. The garish colors of the restaurant signs are the same everywhere. Everything is the same everywhere.

"American made" always meant something. Now, we have poor quality items that may be "cheap," but we have to buy them over and over again, turning what might have looked like a deal into a costly item indeed. Inferior cookie-cutter items are what we are now subjected to.

This homogeneity is also infiltrating our schools. Teachers can't be creative, they have to teach to the lesson plan. Students must memorize for the test rather than learning how to critically think. I was taught about plate tectonics in fourth grade. I was fascinated. I can assure you that was not in the lesson plan. I was applauded for thinking outside the box and questioning teachers. Now, I would probably have been put in detention or labeled as rebellious.

Conformity in behavior is demanded and, if not adhered to, it is labeled and then judged. Children are being put on drugs to make them toe the line. In the workplace, if you question authority, you're summarily fired.

We are losing our individuality, both personally and as a country. "Diversity" is becoming a bad word. People who think, act and behave different than us are ostracized or worse. While diversity typically refers to ethnic groups, I can say personally that I have been roundly criticized for thinking differently than many and for daring to verbalize my unique perspective.

I think we might want to reconsider our acquiescence to homogeneity. We are allowing "systems" (school, work, family, community) to impose rigidity in our behavior and actions. We are allowing more and more computers to think and do for us. They are all identical, they are "programmed" in the same way, and our lives are quickly moving into a binary existence: right or wrong; black or white. I think I prefer gray because it allows aspects of both sides to inform my life and it allows exceptions to every rule.

Many people talk about the "good ol' times." I relish many things in our current world. But upon reflection, one of the best aspects of my generation was a certain lack of uniformity that did not insidiously produce a stifling of the creative spirit and the mind. If we allow ourselves to forget those times, the ever-resilient human spirit will adapt to a way of life where it does not recognize it is in a dismal prison of "homogeneity." And this will be the legacy we leave to our children and grandchildren.

Ashira Young is a licensed social worker and practitioner of energy psychology. She holds a Master of Social Work degree from Indiana University and is a Ph.D. candidate in integrated medical studies from the University of Natural Medicine. She is the author of two newly published books, "An Angel for Olivia" and "5-Second Genius: Access Your Inner Wisdom in a Flash." She lives near Milltown with her husband, former State Sen. Richard Young.

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